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With a long history of over 3,000 years, China has a variety of cultural traditions relating to marriage.
We can learn more about these time-honored practices through the traditional Chinese wedding dress. Its design developed through the dynasties and eras according to traditional Chinese clothing reforms.
After the formal ceremonial dress first appeared in the Zhou Dynasty (1045–221 BC), the wedding dress concept got off the ground in the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BC – 220 AD) and reached its peak in the Song Dynasty (960–1279).
It then experienced a sharp turn after the Revolution of 1911. Now its design tends to be more diverse.
Chinese dress etiquette gradually developed during the Zhou Dynasty. With the emergence of a ruling hierarchy, etiquette rules became richer and different occasions required different clothes.
Compared to later designs, the wedding dress during the Zhou era advocated solemnity. The fundamental colors were usually black and red.
The groom wore a robe (a two-piece black upper garment and a vermilion lower garment) and the bride wore a black shenyi (a one-piece upper and lower garment) with red borders.
The upper and lower garments were cut separately but eventually connected.
It's said that there were twelve colors of silk, which were made into different wedding dresses for people of different identities.
The wedding dress of the Tang Dynasty played a bridging role. It blended the former solemnity with the later design's joyousness. The groom's dress color was mainly crimson and the bride's was green.
In the late Tang Dynasty, a kind of formal dress – a high-waisted skirt with long sleeves – was used as the wedding dress.
It was developed from the previous one-piece garment, and had many layers. Over the skirt, there was a loose blouse.
In the Song Dynasty, the complicated wedding dress was simplified into an unlined garment with loose sleeves. Influenced by the imperial examination, jiafu ('imitative clothing') emerged.
At that time, nobles could wear royal robes or court dress as their wedding dress. An officer's daughter could wear the imperial costume of her mother's rank.
Civilians could also wear the red official costume.
Brides usually wore an upper coat and a lower skirt or cheongsam (qipao) in red, and an embroidered vest specified to an imperial Madame over the dress, with sticks of red flowers in their hair.
Grooms usually wore a long green robe and a black mandarin jacket.
In the early 20th century, most wedding outfits included a traditional gown, a mandarin jacket, and an embroidered vest.
Ordinary brides wore a red upper garment, a lower skirt, a red gaitou (a traditional bridal veil), and embroidered shoes.
After the Revolution of 1911, the wedding dress became increasingly diverse.
Most of the Han people used Western-style suits as a fashionable type of wedding dress.
The groom's outfit would usually be a swallow-tailed coat. The bride's choice was a traditional red embroidered jacket and skirt or a white dress with puffed sleeves.
After the 1920s, wedding ceremonies also became diverse. Brides in urban areas wore a silk dress and white veil, carrying a white bouquet. They called it a civilized marriage.
Brides in rural areas still followed the traditional customs that included wearing a red coat and sitting in a sedan chair.
In the 1950s, with the development of the political policy, a groom's wedding dress was a blue Zhongshan suit (Mao suit). A bride's was a cheongsam or red jacket and skirt.
During the late 1960s to the 1970s, most ordinary people's wedding outfits were just casual clothing.
Urban people normally wore a blue uniform, and a green military uniform was in vogue. Rural people usually wore traditional red clothes.
In the early 1980s, traditional Chinese weddings started to adopt Western practices. It was fashionable for the bride and groom to wear a suit and bridal veil.
After the 1980s, there was no set form for the wedding dress. People dressed differently and the bride would change the veil to a cheongsam during the wedding.
In the 1990s, a suit and veil became the main fashion in urban areas and for some affluent families in rural areas.
Other than that, many people in rural areas still followed the old fashion.
Nowadays, the groom's wedding outfit is normally a suit.
A bride's is more her personal choice. Generally, a veil is worn for the wedding ceremony or wedding photos, then a cheongsam is worn when tea is offered to the parents and a toast is given to the guests.
If you want to visit China to experience traditional Chinese culture, we can assist you. Contact us and we will tailor an unforgettable tour for you.